This is the 22nd installment of the book I am currently writing. It is Sci-Fi/Adventure for young adult. It is not part of the Oz Chronicle series. The first draft is completed, and it is currently under review by my agent, so the final version of the book will most likely look a bit different than what you read here, but I thought you might like to see a work in progress. Happily my agent is busy with another one of my projects at the moment, and she hasn’t been able to give me feedback on “Lost Day”s as of yet. Click on the “Lost Days Book” category on the right to read from the beginning. Or you can click here.
Strangely enough, I could concentrate in English. It was like my brain had flipped into hyper focus, and for some reason I got what Ms. Lane was saying about Harper Lee. She was brilliant. To Kill a Mockingbird was the greatest coming of age novel written, and I was totally jealous of Scout because she had the world’s greatest father. She got Atticus, and I got an asshole.
I made it through the rest of the day with the same kind of concentration. For whatever reason, knowing that Ginger Starling, a girl like me, with few friends, limited social skills, and an overall pathetic existence, had lost her mother in such a tragic way made me see things I hadn’t seen before. Life can change in an instant. I should have known it the way my dad left. He just wasn’t there one day. But for some reason that didn’t shake up my world like discovering Ginger was alive and suffering the same life I was, only worse. She was going through it without her mother now. I nearly cried at one point waiting for the fifth period bell to ring thinking about how much pain she was in. By the time the sixth period bell rang to end my day at school, I knew for sure that I was going to her house. I didn’t know what I would do when I got there, but I was going. I had to see it, the life like mine. I had to see the devastation first hand. Maybe I wanted to know if I could survive it. Maybe I wanted to know that as tragic as her loss was, that it’s still possible to go on with your life. Maybe I was just losing my mind.
I gave Joyner a vague and confusing excuse as to why I couldn’t stay and talk to him after school, and I told Denise and Owen to go on without me. They assumed I was staying to talk to Joyner.
When I was sure they weren’t looking, I pulled out the address to Ginger Starling’s house and headed in that direction. Luckily, in her world that was parallel to mine, she lived closer to the school than I did.
I stood in front of the house and soaked in every square inch of it. It was yellow with green shutters, two stories, a big wraparound porch that had a swing, and three rocking chairs. I could picture the family sitting there, watching the breeze come down the street and ruffle the leaves in the trees. They were happy once. Not anymore. That was all gone.
I made my way down the front walk and up the wide wooden steps. I hesitated before I stepped on the porch. It seemed sacred. A flash of Harper Lee’s Alabama flashed through my head. I could almost hear Scout’s bare feet slapping against the wood planks.
I heard the front door open and stared at the red blotchy, tear-stained face of Ginger Starling. She was a chubby girl. Her hair was a kinky mess of strawberry blonde curls. She was wearing a dress, but I could tell by her posture that she hated it. She didn’t like dresses. My guess is once her mother was buried she’d never wear one ever again.
She sniffled and said. “The school send you?”
“What? No,” I said. “I’m Hayley Wilkes.”
“I know,” she said. “Why are you here?”
There it was. The question I knew would be asked, but I hadn’t prepared for it. I shifted my weight from one leg to the other and fidgeted with my fingers. I opened my mouth to say something, but instead, I started blubbering like a baby. Snot started flowing from my nose, and my chest hurt because I was crying so hard. I covered my nose with the back of my hand and placed my other hand over my chest. She looked stunned at first, afraid almost. She took one step back.
“I’m just so sorry,” I managed to say.
The sound of my voice eased her fears enough for her to take back the last step. “Did you know my mother?”
I didn’t know what to say so I said the closest thing to the truth. “My grandparents go to Dr. Thomas. She was always very sweet and nice to them.”
She half-smiled and nodded. “Everyone loved her at Dr. Thomas’ office.” It was her turn to break down in tears. There we stood, two strangers, five feet apart on a wraparound porch, both of us balling our eyes out.
“Do you have tissues?” I asked after determining there was too much mucus and overall wetness to wipe on my pants.
She laughed in between sobs and motioned for me to come into the house. I did and fought the urge to stare at every family photo on the walls and tables. I wanted to see them together. It was important for me to know that they were a happy family, no divorce, no crazy uncle, no annoying mixture of generations. Just a mother and a father and Ginger and maybe some siblings. I just wanted them to be different from my family. The less like me she was, the less I had to feel bad for her, and the less I had to worry that the same thing could happen to me.
We sat on the couch in the living room and she handed me a box of tissues. I took a half dozen and started pulling myself together. “Are you home alone?” I asked.
“My brother’s upstairs. He’s taking it really hard. Dad’s at the funeral home.” Her voice cracked.
I breathed a small sigh of relief. She had a father.
“Kind of weird having him back in the house,” she said.
“Your dad?” I asked feeling the tension returning.
“Yeah,” she said. “They’ve been divorced about five years now… I guess… I mean they had been divorced, don’t I?”
She didn’t expect me to answer. I don’t think she was even talking to me. If I could read minds, she was asking herself how many times she was going to make the mistake, talking about her mother in the present tense.
“I had to come,” I said. I don’t know what possessed me to say it but I couldn’t help myself.
“What?” she said in a daze.
“You asked me why I was here. I had to come.”
“I don’t know. I… I think it’s because I love my mother and… I can’t imagine… I had to come.”
She looked at me as if she understood. “Would you like something to drink?”
I giggled at the absurdity of her hospitality. I couldn’t imagine that I would care if someone was thirsty if I were in her shoes. But the awful truth was I was glad she asked because I was painfully thirsty. The sudden draining of tears and snot must have dehydrated me. “Water would be nice.”
She stood and went to the kitchen. I began to stand, but paused. I wasn’t sure if she wanted me in the kitchen, but I couldn’t bring myself to let her wait on me given what she was going through, so I entered her kitchen shortly after her. She wasn’t expecting me, and almost dropped the cool glass of water. I took it from her and drank quickly. It was as if I had been in the desert all day without a drop to drink. I surveyed the kitchen and saw her mother’s presence everywhere. This was her room. She loved it. I saw a stack of steel bowls on the counter, one bigger than the next, and I knew baking was her thing. That’s what she did to relax.
Ginger hugged herself. “This used to be my favorite room. My mom loved it. She was always making something, cookies, bread, cakes… but mostly cookies. That’s why I’m so fat. She could have opened up her own bakery.”
“My mom doesn’t cook at all,” I said for myself more than her. Our lives were different. Weren’t they? I finished the last drop of water and placed the glass in the sink. I noticed a small ceramic owl on the window sill. I careful picked it up, “Your mom liked owls?”
Ginger rolled her eyes. “She was a freak about owls.”
“That’s cool,” I said. “They said at school that you didn’t want flowers. You wanted people to make donations to some bird thing.”
“The IBW,” she said. “The Illinois Bird Watch. Mom was on the board. They help to protect threatened and endangered species of birds in Illinois. Mom joined when she found out some owl was on the list of endangered species. She practically ran the thing.”
“How do they help? I mean what do they do to protect the birds?”
“They raise money. Complain to politicians when public lands are encroached upon by developers and the timber industry. Mom lives on the phone some nights doing IBW business… Lived, I mean.” Her eyes went vacant. She was keeping score. That’s twice she’d put her mother in the present.
I put the owl back on the sill. “I should go,” I said.
“I’m sorry I came here,” I said.
She shrugged. “I don’t mind. You’re the only one who has.”
“I just don’t think people know what to say,” I said trying to make her feel better.
“They don’t have to say anything,” she said. “It would just be nice…” She stopped herself. I got the feeling she didn’t think she had a right to complain that none of her classmates cared enough to comfort her in her hour of need. She wasn’t popular enough.
“I could stay,” I said.
A single tear escaped the corner of her eye. “I’d like that.”
We walked back into the living room and sat back down on the couch. Ginger Starling, a girl I didn’t know existed that morning, laid her head on my shoulder and cried herself to sleep. I sat rigid and uncomfortable, afraid to disturb her. Her father returned from the funeral home accompanied by a mountain of man with a shaggy beard and a name that sounded like A-Rod.